University of Central Oklahoma’s (UCO) Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) leverages the Learning Management System (LMS), rubrics, an online dashboard, transcript services, and badging to assess students’ employability and durable soft-skills. Featured by the Chronicle for Higher Ed, this Comprehensive Learner Record model has helped over 30 U.S. and international institutions learn to innovate forward.

What is a Comprehensive Learner Record?

A Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) shows more about a person than a traditional academic transcript. Academic transcripts show student grades, but do not tell a person’s whole story. They do not display most of a student’s true potential life or professional capacities. Registrars created the academic transcript over 100 years ago to standardize student records. Its intended use was for communicating between institutions, not directly to students or employers (Baker & Jankowski, 2020). CLRs are not designed to replace academic transcripts, but supplement them with better information for the student, employers, grad schools, and any others (AACROA, 2021). CLRs seek to capture, assess, and showcase more holistic experiences because learning happens everywhere, not just in classes (NASPA, 2019). Why not have a document that better captures learning in as many places as possible?

Why Does It Matter?

Traditional transcripts send a negative and demotivating message to students, that only those with the highest grades will succeed in life and on the job. While grades matter, research shows they may not always accurately measure learning, without intentional planning and design (Cain, et. al, 2022). Students have not been directed to see how everything in their life can be teaching them and preparing them for their future life and professions, not just coursework and tests. Learning happens in out-of-class experiences: service-learning opportunities, internships, co-curricular engagement with campus areas that support students such as career development centers, out-of-class research mentored projects, even on- and off-campus jobs. How could we help students and our institutions make learning visible in many areas? CLR’s aim to do so (Green & Parnell, 2017).

Employers, legislators, and the public increasingly criticize significant skills gaps between higher ed and workforce readiness (Finley, 2023). New hires of all ages often cannot articulate their college experiences and transfer skills to real-life situations (Peet, 2024). Beyond higher ed, employers rely heavily on resumes saying academic transcripts do not tell them all of what they need to know, particularly in critical (NACE, 2024) soft-skill durable capabilities (Hutson, et. al, 2023). In a Forbes article, Robinson (2023) discussed recent rebranding of soft-skills to “durable skills,” due to the connotation that soft is less than and not as important as hard, technical skills. Robinson said, “tides are changing, especially with the pervasiveness of artificial intelligence in our lives; as the crucial need for abilities such as empathy, collaboration and adaptability continue to grow, ‘soft’ no longer encompasses the heavy significance of these skills.” LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report said 92% of companies reported soft skills mattered as much or more than hard skills. Even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella urges that characterizing empathy as soft undermines its criticality. Nadella does not consider empathy a soft-skill, but the “hardest skill we learn” (in Robinson, 2023). Cook, et. al. of Deloiite Insights (2020) said businesses putting too much emphasis on hard skills as more important could lead to declining results. They recommended shifting away from the term soft skills, “to avoid diminishing the value of what makes us truly human; the term ‘enduring human capabilities’ [shortened to durable skills] is intended to be a more meaningful phrase to describe observable human attributes—the very abilities needed to adapt our technical skills across multiple contexts.” Summer Salomonsen, head of Cornerstone Studios, a tech company developing e-learning content and learning management solutions for large companies such as Dell, Samsung, UPS, Nestle, Alaska Airlines, and Canon, said, “the concept of ‘soft’ is losing its foothold in the workplace today … more and more, in the workplace I'm living in, I see worlds of gray; I don't see just soft and hard; I see everyone needing the ability to act like humans and engage with people to get their jobs done” (in Cook, et. al, 2020).

In August 2023, the Chronicle for Higher Ed held a national virtual forum, titled, “The Transcript of the Future.” In the first part, national digital innovator leaders explained CLR’s, their importance to display broader well-rounded capabilities, and that while not yet perfected and may not be for some time, they are the direction recommended. Higher ed has long known it needed to change but struggled to find ways to shift. These leaders stated someone must start somewhere. The second part of the webinar featured UCO’s STLR program as a leader for nearly a decade, with an implemented CLR since 2014 (Swaak, 2023).

About UCO and How STLR Works

The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) is a metropolitan, teaching-focused university with 13,000-15,000 students, located in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Many students are non-traditional, online, transfer, commuter, low-socioeconomic, first-generation, and from marginalized communities.

UCO’s Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) is like a second-transcript, an official university record, backed by the registrar. The STLR Snapshot dashboard and printout concretely show how students grow in durable soft-skill areas employers say are critical (Cole, et. al, 2021; Murphy, 2020, 2024). STLR tracks growth in five of UCO’s Central Six Transformative Learning tenets: Global and Cultural Competencies; Health and Wellness; Leadership; Research, Creative and Scholarly Activities; and Service Learning and Civic Engagement (UCO, 2024). These areas help students develop skills, like how to: work well with others; interact with those from different backgrounds and perspectives than their own; manage stress and prioritize health; think from larger organization perspective; consider ethical implications of decisions; see they are part of something larger than themselves; be community and others minded, to name a few.

a graphic depicting an example of UCO's STLR format

Figure 1. (Farrell, et. al, 2024).

While STLR is officially housed in the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning (CETTL), it is a campus-wide effort where faculty/staff implement STLR assignments and activities across the institution. STLR dedicated staff facilitate STLR faculty/staff development sessions, training how to incorporate and assess STLR. with students. Training includes two sessions, as two-hour interactive modules with an overview, then practice with: interactive real case scenario small group activities, mapping outcomes to sample assignments/activities, using the campus-wide STLR rubric to assess case scenarios with real student reflections, backwards design their own STLR assignments/activities, and learning the technology. Shorter STLR Refresher sessions are recommended every two years as technology updates and evolves (UCO, 2024; see references STLR rubric level and tenet definitions link).

Following training, faculty/staff submit their STLR assignments/activities each semester through a STLR-tagging form where they: explain the assignment/activity and reflection activities involved; identify STLR tenets and outcomes levels planned; and list specific criteria they will look for that matches to the STLR campus-wide rubric levels. STLR staff quickly review and approve or follow up with questions if needed to help keep alignment to overall STLR outcomes and fidelity to STLR rubric levels.

Once approved, custom coding automates from an API between the form and Desire 2 Learn (D2L) Learning Management System (LMS) to create an assignment folder in the faculty’s course shell and sets up the STLR rubric with objectives tied in the background, at the institution dome level for any course. For a co-curricular student group or project, the form automates a new course shell, enrolls the faculty/staff as instructor, creates a STLR assignment folder, and adds the STLR rubric. For assignments, student groups, and out-of-class projects, faculty/staff manually assess students on the STLR rubric in D2L. Co-curricular STLR events and campus location areas with tenet related programs/services track credit in two ways with custom code: 1) faculty/staff leading events use handheld, mobile Transact ID card swipers or locations use stationary swipers that send data to D2L; or 2) after leading their individual events, faculty/staff upload an excel attendance sheet to a form. Through both options, the data automation enrolls students in the D2L event shell and awards STLR credit automatically, to handle large events and mass scale. Once published in D2L, data pushes from D2L over to a custom STLR data warehouse that combines with basic student info from Ellucian Banner Student Information System (SIS). The process then posts awarded STLR credit to an in-house built custom web-based application, called the STLR Snapshot dashboard.

Students view all STLR credits in the STLR Snapshot dashboard (UCO, 2024). They create customized printouts like the one shown in previous Figure 1 and highlight up to ten credits in each tenet, as a quick-glance, clean view showing concrete examples of their soft-skills. Students can add a link to their own website or e-portfolio. Students can then set versions to be obtained as official STLR Snapshots through the university’s online official transcript service portal. STLR local employer advisory board members (2015; 2019); and American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACROA) and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) consultants provided guidance in developing the look of the printout and options students have to display their skills.

Where is UCO in STLR CLR Implementation?

UCO implemented a small pilot in 2014, then began large-scale launch in Fall 2015. The initial year targeted incoming freshmen through orientation, first-year courses, some general education courses, Student Affairs signature high reach events, retention initiatives, non-class campus internships, student research, and service-learning projects. From there, as more and more faculty/staff became trained, spread continued to all colleges, any course level including graduate programs, and further co-curricular learning.

While STLR is a blended approach to reaching on-campus and fully online students, all of STLR is captured and assessed in the LMS, making it possible to capture in-person, hybrid, and online STLR experiences the same way. As UCO is a highly non-traditional campus, STLR has been incorporated in class assignments in hybrid, fully online programs, and some graduate programs that have minimal, if any on-campus engagement. However, virtual co-curricular event and involvement options increased with more faculty/staff being willing to offer since COVID.

Implementation reach highlights:

  • Faculty/staff STLR training:
    • To date, STLR staff trained over 900 UCO faculty and staff in how to implement and assess STLR: full-time faculty, adjunct, professional and support staff, and administrators.
    • By year two, 35% of full-time faculty trained; by year six, over 70% full-time faculty. To date, attending and implementing is voluntary, decided by campus leadership ahead of launch due to campus type, size, and population.
  • STLR spread to students:
    • By Fall 2018, over 50% total population had a STLR experience; by year six, 75% of all enrolled.
  • STLR spread to graduates:
    • By year three, 37% of all bachelor’s graduates; by year six, 73% of all bachelor’s and master’s grads.
How Did UCO Make STLR a Priority and Create Long-Term Success?

UCO began shifting campus culture around 2006 to focus on student-centered practices, holistic learning, and implemented a Transformative Learning teaching/learning framework, aiming to place students at the center of their own active, reflective experiences (Mezirow, 2009; Cranton & Taylor, 2012; Brookfield, 2011; Dirkx, et. al, 2018). In 2009, Transformative Learning (TL) and the Central Six Tenets became part of the university mission (UCO, 2024). By 2012, UCO launched an annual large-scale TL teaching and learning conference, created the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning (CETTL) faculty development center, added tenet faculty/staff liaisons, and increased cross-campus collaboration. By its 2012 Higher Learning Commission (HLC) re-accreditation site visit, UCO showed shifted improved teaching and learning, student success, and more holistic, high-impact practices. HLC was thrilled with the efforts. As accrediting bodies often want to know, they asked what’s next?

While UCO had been in deep discussion on next steps, following the site visit, three Vice President (VP) sponsors: Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Information Technology collaborated to create the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) project planning team, including leaders from their divisions and critical campus areas. They met every Friday for several years ahead of and into early implementation. They created the author’s dedicated staff position first, beginning in Fall 2014, with the pilot ongoing. In Summer 2015, the author led ramp-up training with the pilot group and around 150 faculty-staff for initial launch in Fall 2015. Though UCO had dedicated campus funding, it sought and received several grants to augment and fast-track campus-wide spread further, faster, with more robust infrastructure. Grant funding allowed additional dedicated staff in 2015 and 2016, including an assessment position. One-time funds created: technology system initial integrations and customizations, the STLR Snapshot application, and fueled start up marketing and outreach efforts. UCO fully institutionalized STLR by 2019.

What Makes UCO’s STLR CLR Different?

To date, UCO’s STLR program is the only model in full implementation for nearly a decade that tracks such varied holistic soft-skill growth at large-scale reach across an entire institution: curricular assignments in every college, co-curricular events, student groups, non-class student projects; extensive reach across the student body and the entire campus in any setting learning can take place. The automation and dashboard help keep students involved in seeking out progress and opportunities at their own pace.

The evidence-based, authentic assessment STLR rubric, developed with input from about twenty faculty/staff, assessment leaders, and administrators, maps back to outcomes from the robust, well-validated AAC&U (American Association of Colleges and Universities) VALUE rubrics (2013). While other CLR’s are starting to exist, UCO’s STLR not only tracks general Exposure participation, but measures the depth and impact of learning in soft-skill development at higher levels (Wesley Chamberlain, 2018). Traditional grades and academic transcripts often make assumptions that students completing work have reached outcomes, if identified at all. That practice led employers to not trust grades as preparedness. Instead, STLR challenges students to grow beyond participation, to integrate tenets into their lives, all the way to showing transformation of embodying the tenet characteristics and skills (Baker & Jankowski, 2020, p. 12). If awarded the highest STLR rubric level, called Transformation, students earn a graduation cord in the Tenet color. To make this possible, STLR staff teach faculty/staff backwards design to plan their outcomes on what it would look like for students to reach each of the STLR rubric levels (Exposure, Integration, Transformation, Not Achieved/Not Assessed). They learn how to authentically assess by looking for evidence of student growth in reflections.

Employers want graduates who can explain how what they did in college prepared them in areas that will help their organization. Overwhelmingly, from grades and lists of participation alone, new hires of all ages often cannot articulate how, or if college prepared them and struggle to translate experiences to real-life scenarios (Peet, 2024). STLR, through the entire process helps faculty/staff shift how they talk about learning with students to be about real-world relevancy. Since 2014, STLR provides additional faculty/staff collaborative training with Generative Knowledge Institute Founder and Director, Dr. Melissa Peet (Ann Arbor, MI) on Embodied and Generative Learning to help students connect and integrate STLR experiences. Peet’s methods incorporate a series of embodied reflective prompts to help students uncover their hidden learning, so they can articulate what they know and be able to transfer it to future contexts and job scenarios. Peet’s methods were developed through extensive research at the University of Michigan and are used around the world to improve student success (2015; 2017; 2023; 2024).

The STLR process promotes high-impact practices, discourse, and dialogue with students through facilitated reflection and STLR rubric feedback. The STLR rubric uses growth-mindset verbiage (Dweck, 2006) meant to communicate positively and motivationally students are on the right track, compared to the demotivational academic transcript model. Faculty/staff say these are conversations they always wanted to have with students, rather than be stuck in a grading box. Faculty/staff share they love getting to see their impact through student reflections. They see significant improvement in students getting concepts and doing better in their classes and activities.

From early on, STLR began drawing national recognition. In Fall 2015, AACROA and NASPA reached out to add UCO to their Lumina Foundation CLR project initial cohort, due to the type of institution, student population, and that UCO was beyond planning phases and already at implementation, compared to other institutions already selected. As part of the project, AACROA and NASPA discusses UCO STLR in multiple phase CLR reports (Green & Parnell, 2017, p. 5, 10-11, 90-97, 160, 178, 180; AACROA, 2021, p. 22), including their official AACROA Implementation of IMS Global CLR Standards Guide (2022, p. 4, 21, 64-67, 90). STLR was instrumental in informing IMS Global’s process of developing their 1EdTech CLR Standard for data technical specifications that are the recommendations for future CLR technology systems. UCO, through a separate partnership with eLocker helped inform their process as they became of first products to receive IMS CLR Standard Certification (2021). IMS Global lists UCO STLR as an exemplar CLR in their resources for higher ed CLRs (2022, p. 20; 2023). Additional highlights of national organizations recognizing STLR as an exemplar model: Educause/Next Gen Learning Challenges Gates Incubator Program (Morris, 2015); Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET, 2016); American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU, 2017-2019, p.19); Quality Assurance Commons with Lumina Foundation (2018); the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA, 2020); U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2019, p. 45-46), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). (UCO, 2022).

Because the STLR Snapshot tool began development as early as 2015, launching in 2016 with the awarded AACROA NASPA Lumina grant funding with a deadline, it existed ahead of current software now on the market that seeks to meet the CLR standard. In the process as part of the ACCROA NASPA CLR funded project, UCO sought any technology solution at the time. There were none that could guarantee product delivery or close to solid proof of concept at the time. UCO sought to keep leading anyway and built its CLR in-house to keep movement forward. UCO was part of helping provide guidance on what became the recommended CLR standards because it was already at far reaching implementation stages after years of shifting campus culture, had campus buy-in, and campus-wide assessment planning, enough to be able to provide insight on what the standards should become. However, with a working system already in place, to dismantle it to adopt then and now what are still new market products, would have risked existing wide-scale STLR implementation with thousands of real students with existing STLR credit, in real-time. If current software options existed then, they may have been selected. Integrated, automated external badging large-scale software was not yet readily available either. As UCO continues into next development phases, it looks to incorporate the CLR digital standards it was instrumental in helping IMS Global inform, such as long-term interoperability with other systems outside the institution.

Currently UCO STLR holds an NSF grant leveraging AI to scan reflection narratives for qualitative research themes (UCO, 2022). So far, UCO extracted STLR assessed reflection artifacts from the LMS and scanned a sample size of around 900 through AI with a partner research firm (student names removed, holds IRB approval). At last reporting stage, in total UCO faculty/staff have assessed over 60,000 learning artifacts with the STLR rubric in the LMS since 2014.

What is the Impact?

In addition to the highlights provided earlier about implementation reach, since the beginning of STLR, UCO tracked not just majority populations that might otherwise be inclined to engage with STLR, but prioritized improving retention and student success among first-generation, low-socioeconomic, and marginalized students who make up a large portion of the student body. While currently mid-cohort nine, STLR shows eight past cohorts of freshmen fall-to-fall enrollment. Each cohort had large sample n’s, consistently seeing retention and student success improvement at rates unseen before in higher ed (see figure 2 below). Students who only attended a STLR event or visited a location for Exposure participation had higher retention much above those with no STLR experiences. As of Fall 2023: STLR-trained faculty/staff have awarded 200,767 total STLR assessments across the institution (includes rubric assessed learning artifacts and participation Exposure credit from attending events or interaction with STLR location areas with tenet related programs/services). Below are retention data highlights. At the DLA conference, the author will provide access to data slides with more details on faculty/staff involvement across the institution, deeper cohort data, improved graduation rates, and more.

An image depicting various graphs and charts regaring UCO STLR retention rates and achievements

Figure 2. (Wimmer, et. al, 2024)

What do Real Students, Faculty, and Staff Have to Say About STLR?

Student quotes (names are removed for privacy, obtained from STLR outreach efforts or qualitative interviews, indicated by area of study, level at the time): If you’re bold - if you do one thing - then you're not afraid to branch out, it becomes less scary. Getting involved [in STLR] was like one dose of happiness that opened me up to a world of more happiness. There was a world around me I didn't know existed. It helps you find your voice. -- Freshman, Nursing. I can look back to see everything I have been involved in and the transformation I'm going through. -- Sophomore, Psychology. If you cannot find meaning in your life, it's your responsibility to create it, and STLR has helped me do that. -- Junior, Organizational Leadership (adult, non-traditional, primarily online, transfer student). It helps you discover what strengths you have without even knowing it. I was involved in a lot of cultural activities and didn't realize that was a strength. With the categories, [STLR] helped me have less stress in figuring out what I could be good at and what things I should be looking to try. -- Junior, Community Public Health. You get STLR credit, but you also learn why it matters. You don't find that on other campuses. STLR is something I couldn't imagine, memories and moments you can't buy or put a dollar value on. It makes you a well-rounded human. -- Senior, Strategic Communication. Coming from the outside world in… I kind of have a picture of what it’s like [out there]. [Students] need something other than books in front of them to learn about what the world is like. And that is what STLR does, it gives them a picture of the world and what they can do to make it better. Or make themselves better. Or help other people make it better. -- Undergraduate, Veteran. [Student attended Central African Art Exhibit with art techniques using multiple vantage points]: That was something I learned that stuck with me so much ever since then… the different viewpoints on the world… the art itself and how they talked about how the artist used the world to portray their piece…In business for instance, when I’m in marketing, it’s my job to look at engineering… it’s my job to look at the customer’s viewpoint, my boss’ viewpoint... all of these different viewpoints. Just that artist’s example of different viewpoints can be applied in so many other areas. There’s a lot of things during that [exhibit] that really stuck with me. -- Recent graduate, College of Business.

Faculty/Staff quotes: As a professor, this transformative learning assignment has resulted in some of the most significant and meaningful experiences in my career. I have watched students become proficient in a skill that will be required in their future jobs and have witnessed their transformation as they faced their fears and worked to provide an effective and meaningful training session for their clients. I am so appreciative to work at a university that emphasizes both the disciplinary and beyond disciplinary skills students need to succeed. -- Professor, Mass Communication. Students have told me they really feel like they are making a difference in their community with this project. They also told me that this project helped them listen. I think that impacted me the most. In this time it is more important than ever that we listen to one another, and this project has helped students see the importance of hearing other people’s stories and giving them a place in the community. Assistant Professor, History and Geography. STLR has provided staff a framework that allows us to capture the learning occurring outside of the classroom and provides a way to capture the transformation students are having as they reflect on and integrate all of their experiences, curricular and co-curricular. -- Director, Cultural Outreach & Diversity Strategies, Hispanic Success Initiative Lead Mentor.

How Have Other Institutions Been Impacted by UCO’s STLR?

Since early on, while UCO was still building STLR, other institutions began finding STLR and sought out UCO for guidance in how to develop similar programs. The amount of institutions asking to know more grew enough to develop a consultancy model to help offset time spent assisting others while still needing to ensure UCO’s STLR and students progress. To date, STLR has worked with over 30 institutions in various ways, providing insight on shifting campus culture, long-term planning, faculty/staff buy-in, infrastructure planning, marketing/outreach efforts, data tracking, aligning outcomes, rubrics, improving teaching/learning, authentic assessment of learning, program assessment, quantitative/qualitative research, to name a few. Highlights of institutions STLR assisted at various planning or implementation stages: La Cite College (Ottawa, Canada); Massey University (New Zealand); Technology University of Dublin (Ireland); Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie (Sau Paulo, Brazil); Singapore Management University; Methodist College Kuala Lampur (Malaysia); Tarleton State University (TX); Texas A&M University San Antonio; Eastern Washington University; Western Carolina University; University of North Texas; College of Coastal Georgia; Stella and Charles Guttman Community College (NY); City University of New York (CUNY); Washington State University; Defense Language Institute (CA): Columbus State University (GA); Bellevue College (WA); Northeastern University (Boston, MA); Montgomery Community College (NC); United States Air Force; Cal Poly Pomona; St. Louis College of Pharmacy; Sheridan College (Ontario, CA); University of Houston; California State University Fresno; Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine; Texas Women’s University; Stephen F. Austin University (TX); University of Northern British Columbia (CA); Langara College (Vancouver, CA); Middle Georgia State University; University of Nebraska Lincoln College of Engineering; Baylor University (TX); University of California San Diego; University of Georgia (includes others not listed here).


As the Chronicle for Higher Education and digital innovator leaders suggest, higher education has to shift and start somewhere, even if the process is not perfected yet. UCO STLR continues to the lead the way in innovating teaching and learning to meet the needs of the 21st century (Sofel, 2016). While there needs to be workforce preparation shift (Gatta, et. al, 2024), the world also needs prepared students who become well-rounded citizens that consider their part in their community, collaborate to solve world challenges, and contribute, not just consume the world around them. A college president of an international institution said it well: universities can no longer afford to graduate engineers only capable of following directions; they must graduate engineers equipped and prepared to ask, “what ought to be? (Awuah, 2017 as cited in King, 2017).” UCO’s Transformative Learning framework, STLR, and innovative methods help students actively get involved in their own learning journey, improve their likelihood to persist to graduation, and become better prepared to reach their future work and life goals.


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Camille M. Farrell is an Assistant Director for the Student Transformative Learning Record in the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma 73034. Email: cfarrell@uco.edu.

*This paper was one of three selected as a "Best Paper" among DLA 2024 proceedings, Jekyll Island, Georgia, July 28-31, 2024.